15 10 2013
Using technology to create jobs
On themes discussed in The Software Society: Cultural and Economic Impact (2013), by William Meisel
In The Software Society, I noted that advances in software can create new jobs, compensating in part for those advances eliminating old jobs. An interesting example of such a case arose in a recent conversation with Howard Lee, CEO of Spoken Communications. Spoken provides a cloud-based call center platform that avoids the need for companies to support hardware and software within their company and allows paying on a usage basis. Other companies have cloud-based contact center solutions, but Spoken is growing quickly due to a couple of unusual features.
First, Spoken’s service uses agents that can be anywhere, even working from home, using a standard PC and Internet connection supported by special software. This solution is efficient for both the company receiving customer service calls and the agent. The company doesn’t have to support a building housing the agents and, in most cases, agents use their own personal computer and web connection. Agents benefit in being able to work hours that suit their lives and in avoiding the lost time and cost of commuting. If they live in an area that doesn’t provide suitable local jobs, working over the Internet provides a job that might not otherwise be available.
Second, in a service Lee indicates is unique to Spoken, some agents never come on the call. They simply backup speech recognition systems. A call to a contact center might start with a prompt from an automated system, “How can I help you?” Speech recognition software tries to transcribe the caller’s spoken response and interpret it to identify the appropriate service or agent to support the caller. The “hidden agent” is involved only if the speech recognition system indicates it is having trouble understanding the utterance by reporting a low “recognition score.” In that case, an agent receives the audio of the caller’s request and the computer’s text interpretation, and types corrections to the speech recognition software’s guess, allowing automation driving the call to proceed correctly. The interaction with the caller is designed to allow the conversation to proceed while this check is performed, so that the caller doesn’t experience a delay in response. Since they never speak, hidden agents need not have a pleasant voice, a criterion that is otherwise important in a call center agent, further broadening the range of candidates that could handle the job. As customers come to expect the kind of flexibility they experience with mobile personal assistants like Apple’s Siri, this service may become increasingly important.
Unfortunately, statistics suggest that the net effect of automation today is a reduction in the number of jobs. But efficient technology solutions such as this can preserve or add some jobs.
More blog entries at www.thesoftwaresociety.com.